Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Second Runner-Up, "Bitten To Death By Rats"

Woodlawn Loop 8mi
1/14/06 3:14pm

I have a confession to make. Despite my mapping obsession, when it comes to the finer details of training - the statistical “facts” that so many runners become obsessed with - I usually just give myself the benefit of the doubt. Distance, pace, and time may all be relative terms with me.
Most days I walk from my house to the corner and I don’t start my watch until I actually start running. Of course, when I map the route I always start at my front door. The difference is only about 1/20th of a mile, but it does skew the pace calculations in my favor.
I always round off my finish times to the nearest minute. Anything between one and forty-five seconds gets rounded down.
If I get stopped by traffic or pit-stops for water and bathrooms, I subtract those times from my finish time. I don’t actually measure how long these things take, I just estimate. Liberally. There’s a lot to be said for the power of positive thinking.
Today, after a protracted struggle with an arsenal of new gadgetry, I’m finally ready to take the Forerunner out for a test run. I decide to run against the “Virtual Partner” and I set the pace for a ten minute mile. The Virtual Partner feature allows you to run against an imaginary friend (or foe) over a set distance and pace. I’ve laid out an eight mile course, and I feel like eighty minutes should be a good healthy finish time for me.
Unfortunately, technology has no regard for my feelings. My virtual partner, That Little Bastard, just keeps right on running his ten-minute pace, attempting to pass me at each red light and stop sign. A few quick calculations show that I need to have about a 250 foot lead on TLB if I want to stop for a one minute walk break (a mile is about 5000 feet and I’m running a ten-minute pace, so I’m covering about 500 feet-per-minute. If I slow down to half that speed I’ll need to be 250 feet ahead of TLB for him to catch me in a minute’s time). This changes the usual dynamic a bit. Previously, the reward of a walk break was solely time-dependant, and it came around every five minutes with amazing regularity. Like clockwork. Now if I want to take a break I’ve got to work for it. It’s like I used to run for the county and now I’ve moved to the private sector.
I'm learning quickly about the things that ruin a good pace. The first time I stop to stretch my calves I watch in horror as TLB goes screaming by me and I’ve got to really dig in just to catch him.
I used to assume that Stopping came immediately after Walking in the hierarchy called: Actions Which Are Slower Than Running. It seems obvious now, but I hadn’t realized that the difference between ten minutes and fourteen minutes was miniscule in comparison to the difference between fourteen minutes and not moving at all. Skipping, Staggering, and Somersaulting all come well before Not Moving At All, the list is not alphabetical. In fact, all of these actions are infinitely faster than stopping. Now I find myself speeding up at the end of each walk break in an attempt to fend off my attacker for a few more precious seconds.
I make it inside the Woodlawn Cemetery for the first time, but I’m still being chased and it’s hard for me to concentrate on the graves of Tampa’s second-generation pioneers. Italian, Cuban, and Jewish names mark the headstones alongside the carnival workers of Showmen’s Rest, and the monuments to Union and Confederate soldiers. Woodlawn is newer and more carefully maintained than downtown’s Oaklawn Cemetery, and its history may not run as deep, but it is a good demonstration of the diverse population that was responsible for Tampa’s unique cultural heritage.
A few weekends ago we took a Sunday afternoon trip to Oaklawn Cemetery to pick our way through the low hanging branches of live oaks, looking for the headstones of some of Tampa’s earliest inhabitants. This is not a place to run but to stroll slowly, head down, trying to take it all in. Many of the graves here appear to have been vandalized over the years, and some of the headstones are so weathered that it would take a careful rubbing to decipher their inscriptions. Others speak so clearly they give you chills. The stones range from the slick polished marble of the McKay family, to the cast concrete markers bearing the names of Cuban and Italian immigrants.
Here is the Coller family plot; the first civilian settlers to the area, Levi Coller ran the sutler’s store that supplied the troops at Fort Brooke.
After some searching we find the famous grave of William and Nancy Ashley. William Ashley was Tampa’s first City Clerk and the namesake of present-day Ashley Drive. He is buried here next to his former slave Nancy, with whom he lived in common-law marriage. “Here lies Wm Ashley and Nancy Ashley. Master and Servant. Faithful to each other in that relation in life, in death they are not separated. Stranger consider and be wiser. In the Grave all human distinction of race or caste mingle together in one common dust."
Although I like the tone and the sentiment of the inscription, it’s the matter-of-fact descriptions that I like the best. How can you beat an epitaph like “Mr. Hubbard, a Cuban pirate, found dead in woods June 18, 1850.” According to Julius “Jeff” Gordon’s genealogical study of Oaklawn, Hubbard was killed by a group of Indians who were hung from tree limbs before they could be brought to trial. Hubbard was buried in a “pirate’s casket” for the sum of seven dollars.
I had always said that I wanted to be cremated. This was before I knew about pirate caskets. Even with the conversion to modern-day dollars it’s still a bargain at $163.88. “Found dead in woods” has a nice ring to it, but I think I’m going to go with “Torn apart by wolves.”

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Goddamn Mick Jagger

Bayshore Loop 20.5mi
On weekend mornings as I drive home from the station, sometimes I feel like it’s just me and the street corner paper sellers. I’ve usually been up for a few hours already and I’ve had two or three cups of coffee. At least. Being a habitual late sleeper myself, on these days I feel like I’ve been given a glimpse into the secret world of weekend mornings. Today in the center of my driveway I see the telltale accordion fold photocopy that could only have come from an individual that I have come to know as The Evie Man.
I’ve been receiving dispatches from The Evie Man since we moved into Seminole Heights eight years ago. The first things that we received were hand written notes stuffed into our mailbox without envelopes or postage. As a young interracial couple in a new neighborhood, the often blatantly racist tone of the letters was especially disturbing to us, and without any evidence to the contrary we assumed that they were directed solely at us. I didn’t save any of these early letters because I didn’t see any connection for awhile, but eventually I began collecting the strange communiqués. Soon the letters began appearing in a standard format; a strange, obsessive accordion fold photocopy distributed throughout the neighborhood in a seemingly random fashion. After realizing that I was not the only one receiving the letters, whenever I found one in my yard or driveway I would set out to canvas the neighborhood in search of others. Sometimes they were all the same, but usually there were several different versions distributed at one time, or the same basic letter would have subtle changes made to it in the other versions that I found.
Eventually, what may have begun in the mind of the Evie Man as a simple neurosis and a bit of paranoia about the changing demographic of the neighborhood had slowly morphed into a full blown psychosis. “There’s a giant spider in my mind,” began one of his more ominous messages. These delusions finally gave way to the classic paranoid schizophrenic notion of persecution at the hands of Hollywood celebrities. The Evie Man felt especially oppressed by the Rolling Stones and a Norwegian gospel singer named Evie Tornquist.
One morning several years ago I found an unmarked cassette tape lying in my yard carefully packaged in Saran Wrap. I popped the cassette into my truck’s tape deck and immediately I knew where it had come from. “An eye doctor put drops in my eyes that blinded me, however, I went on a twenty-five day water fast and I can read the bible again…this is a song by Evie.” I sat transfixed and listened to the tape in its entirety. The depth of psychosis and the rhythmic repetition of delusions was dizzying. This man was the John Coltrane of paranoia. A few months later, when I had a copy of the tape burned to CD, I took Mike L. out to my van to listen to it after we’d had a few beers at New World. We sat in the parking lot listening to a twenty minute tirade about “Hollywood Queers” and The Evie Man’s twisted logic spiraled in on itself faster and faster until Mike opened his door and vomited on the asphalt (Listen To The Evie Man's Audio).
I have never seen The Evie Man. His deliveries always come in the middle of the night, and they are spaced far enough apart that I have usually forgotten to be on the lookout before the next one arrives. I had always assumed that he lived somewhere in the area until I mentioned him one evening during an appearance on WMNF. A listener called in to say that they had received dispatches from The Evie Man as far away as Valrico.
There must be some kind of a pattern here.
A comprehensive GIS study of The Evie Man’s movements could provide a valuable insight into the cartography of psychosis. The Evie Man exists somewhere in the nexus of points occupied by The Rolling Stones (Audio), Evie Tornquist (Audio), and an Australian surfer named George Greenough.
For the first five miles of today’s run I’m consumed with the details of the Evie Map. I find a few more of the papers as I run west on Fern Street, and I stuff them into the pocket of my Camelback. I’m keeping close tabs on my pace and forcing myself to slow down until I finally lock into an 11:30 pace. I know the mile markers for about the first ten miles and I’m able to stay right where I want to be. After running this pace for the next two hours I’m locked in the groove and I can tell where the mile markers are by looking at my watch. But I’m not there yet.
At mile six I round the corner onto Hillsborough and I notice something strange about the house to my right. The palm reader’s house has a gaping hole in its side as if someone has driven their car through it, providing me with a clear view of the kitchen and living room. I don’t see any tire tracks or other evidence of an accident, just this huge hole in the concrete block wall. I snap a few pictures with my camera phone and I am putting it away when I see a skull capped biker eyeing me suspiciously from around the corner of the house. He glares at me, glares at the hole in the house, and glares back at me again. I give him the perfunctory runner’s nod and quickly run across the street. From the median I hear someone yelling from behind me and I turn around to see another mustachioed ne’er-do-well standing on the sidewalk and screaming in my general direction. The confidence that I have in my ability to outrun most construction workers over long distances does me little good when I have anything less than a three mile head start. Plus, you never know, this guy could be pretty swift. That mullet does make him look like a horse. I decide to try my luck and the mullethead stays where he is, pawing the dirt at the edge of the street.
The next fourteen-and-a-half miles flow by with comparative ease. My strict attention to pace has paid off.
People must be making up for the time lost to the holidays as everyone seems to be working today. The UT campus is bustling with construction workers, the bleachers are being set up along Bayshore for the Gasparilla parade, and downtown is gridlocked with minivans full of circus goers.
Gradually the crowds thin out and it’s just me again, putting things in perspective and ticking off the miles twelve minutes at a time. “It’s sort of like being on a mountain and looking down at a farm, and then you see what others don’t see, a giant spider.”

More From The Evie Man

Thursday, January 05, 2006

They Are?

Epps/Lowry 4m1

I’m not a total Luddite. I’m more of a technological skeptic…the kind that loves gadgets. While I enjoy solving the problems of design and manufacture in a variety of different materials, computers with their hidden architectures and perpetual incompatibility issues can send me into fits of blind rage. While I may be in the mood to pimp my house or my furniture, I want my computer to behave like a Honda Civic right off of the assembly line. I want to turn it on and have it take me from point A to point B. I’ve been switching things over to a new system for the last couple of weeks, and I’m starting to think that changing residences would be easier. If I had a wooden shoe I would throw it deep into the gears of this machine.
Not being the type who enjoys tinkering with buggy software and devices of questionable usefulness, I generally wait until it is impossible to hold out any longer, whereupon I become immersed in the technology and immediately start extolling its virtues to the true technophobes that I know. This has cemented my position amongst the truly tech savvy as a hopeless neophyte, however people who haven't yet figured out how to open their department mandated email accounts have decided that I'm some sort of systems administrator.
Recently, thanks to Dan D, I acquired a powerful suite of GIS software that I will be using to produce maps for this project. Dan showed me a few things about the software, and we were able to quickly produce a dangerous dog map of Tampa by accessing the county’s GIS server. It turns out that the frequency of my encounters with presumably dangerous dogs has a lot to do with the fact that I run through all of the worst areas in town. I will be posting some of these maps as soon as I work out a few of the kinks.
I also ordered myself an MP3 player and a Garmin Forerunner 201. The Forerunner GPS unit should, among other things, allow me to upload my routes directly to Mapcard instead of having to input them manually as I have been doing. The MP3 player doesn’t figure into my Running Through Tampa plan very much because I refuse wear headphones while running on the street, however there is a tangential benefit in that I will be listening to instructional podcasts while I’m on the elliptical trainer in an effort to improve my Spanish.
For the time being though, my running is still technology free. I’m following Monday’s route in reverse for a slight change of scenery. As I pass the first mile marker on Ola just north of Broad, I hear what sounds like a swarm of bees coming from up ahead. Rounding the bend I see five or six full grown men standing in the road, radio controllers in hand, as a swarm of gas-powered toy trucks buzzes up and down the street, through lawns, and over makeshift plywood ramps where they tumble through the air and land on everything but their wheels. There is a woman doing a sort of Wimbledon-ball-boy routine, running back and forth turning the trucks back onto their still spinning wheels while another man in a wheelchair sits watching gleefully from the sidelines. Everyone is laughing at me as I try to pick my way through the melee, the trucks playfully strafing me from all sides, and I think about stopping to take some pictures but I’m running an 8:30 pace and I think I can push it through to the end.
This area has a long-standing appreciation for juvenile behavior, from these guys and their trucks to the Hampton Terrace go-kart racers as well as my own ill-fated moped gang and the Seminole Heights Marching Band.
In the early nineties, Andrew and I were the only people amongst our friends who drove SUVs. I had an old Isuzu Trooper full of garbage and Andrew had a Dodge Ram Charger with a nine-millimeter in the console. One of our favorite weekend pastimes was to load up our trucks with revelers from the constant party at the Baldwin house on Hiawatha, taking them on high-speed night tours of the alleys of Seminole Heights. Years later, when we both lived in the neighborhood, he and I would retrace these routes on our Sunday afternoon moped tours of the area.
Riding a moped is a lot like being a fireman. The children are really impressed. Almost everyone else thinks you’re an idiot. Almost.
One Sunday afternoon, as Andrew and I pull the bikes onto Broad Street from the Alpine Liquor parking lot an aging, bemulleted rocker stops his muscle car to lean out the window, throw us a goat, and yell “those things are TITS!”

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Popemobile Would Be Nice

Epps/Lowry 4mi

Fearing that my resolution may already be slipping away, I step out into the fading light armed with my headlamp and a few other “essentials”. Until recently I had done all of my shorter runs without carrying anything. No water, keys, or money. Not even an ID.
I’ve always held that I’m in very little danger on my runs because everyone knows that runners don’t carry anything with them. When I reached the point where I started needing water on my long runs I started taking my Camelback. This allowed me to bring a few other things along (cell phone, house key, ID). As the runs got longer I started to need sustenance and I added gel packs, Clif bars, and a few bucks for Gatorade along the way. Sometimes I even threw in a credit card just in case. If I bonked downtown I could just get a room.
What had started out as a kangaroo’s pocket was slowly calcifying into a turtle’s shell. My rig was making me slower, thus more vulnerable, and now I needed protection. Lacking the funds for a Derringer and an ankle holster, I opt for the only slightly wimpier can of pepper spray. If anyone makes fun of me I’ll mace them.
Originally I only carried this setup on my long runs. I still did my short neighborhood routes without support, but the more close encounters I had with dogs and other non-human assailants, the more I thought I’d really feel like an idiot for leaving the pepper spray at home when something did happen. I couldn’t just carry it in my hand though. I needed some place to put it. On went the hip pack. Since I’m wearing it I might as well throw a few things in it. Cell phone. Keys. ID. It wouldn’t hurt to take some water. Maybe I should just drive.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Resolutions, Revelations, and Resuscitations

Rogers Sulphur 9.8mi

Here we go again. The month of December was pretty much a wash. I didn’t write, I didn’t map, and, most importantly, I didn’t run…much.
There were a few notable exceptions. I ran a nineteen-mile route along the northern section of the river from my house to Temple Terrace. I was woefully under prepared for this distance, and the last few miles almost killed me. I had my first brush with lactic acid buildup around mile sixteen. At first it came only every five or ten minutes, but it felt like an electric eel slithering from my knee to my ankle along my left calf. Gradually the frequency increased, and by mile eighteen I could only run for a minute or so before it would start and I would have to walk for two or three minutes. This was not the kind of pain that can be pushed through. When it started, I stopped. There was no other option. Did I mention that it was raining? Yeah, that too.
The nineteen-miler aside, the only things I did to excess were eat, drink, and smoke cigars. I think I was subconsciously following the training program developed in my last post. It was going to take a New Year’s resolution to get me back on track.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’m a fairly superstitious person, and I secretly believe in the power of New Year’s resolutions. While none of mine have ever been wholly successful I have, at one time or another, lost weight, quit smoking, and started exercising among other things. While the long-term efficacy of all of these may be debatable, something is always better than nothing.
Exercising on New Year’s Day makes me a little self conscious. New Year’s Day is to running what New Year’s Eve is to drinking. Amateur day.
A few years ago on New Year’s Day I worked a cardiac arrest on a very large man who had decided that he was going to take up running as his New Year’s resolution. In the chaos of the back of the ambulance I hadn’t realized that the patient’s wife was riding up front with my partner. I asked him to call the report in to the hospital (our hands being full with CPR, intubation, and drug administration). He hollered back to me that the hospital wanted to know what cardiac rhythm the patient was in, and everyone in the back yelled “asystole” in unison. It was then that I heard her sobbing. “I told him this exercise program was going to kill him,” she said to my partner.
I had planned to run a 5k this morning to help with my pace prediction for race day, but I decided that at this point I needed distance more than speed, and I set out for an unmapped ten-miler. The first few miles were fairly smooth, and somewhere around mile four I had a little epiphany. All of my worries about not writing and letting down whatever miniscule audience I might have were ridiculous. I had already accomplished what I had set out to do on this project. I didn’t need a map. I could decide how far or for how long I wanted to run, and I could be home within minutes of my desired time. I had done it many times now. These neighborhoods were totally foreign to me just a few months ago, and now I knew their eccentricities; their shortcuts and dead-ends, and even a few of the characters along the way.
I made a loop of the golf course among the sparse holiday golfers and headed back through Sulphur Springs where the remnants of last night’s fireworks echoed through the empty streets.